I returned a few days ago from Jerusalem, where I presented a paper on “Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon” at the thirteenth annual World Congress of Jewish Studies. It was not my first time speaking in Jerusalem on a subject that is of specific interest to Latter-day Saints. In the 1970s, I was invited to deliver a series of lectures on Mormonism for the history and sociology departments of Haifa University. It was my only opportunity to lecture in Hebrew.1 In 1981, I was one of two Americans invited to speak at a scholarly conference sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Education and Culture and marking the opening of a new museum exhibit on Coptic textiles in Jerusalem. My paper was entitled “Baptism for the Dead: The Coptic Rationale,” and it was very well received. Unfortunately, the book that was to have resulted from the symposium never came to fruition, so I later published my presentation as Number 2 in the Special Papers series of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology in September 1989.2
The opportunity to discuss LDS topics in scholarly venues has prompted me to discuss with you the status of scholarship in Mormonism and of Mormonism in scholarship. In doing so, it will be necessary to discuss the recent history of LDS scholarship and how it has fared in both the scholarly world and with critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will not be discussing LDS scholarship in general, which is rather extensive. Rather, we will be looking at scholarly work on LDS topics that have published in non-LDS publications.
After John W. Welch organized the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) in 1979, critics of the Church began arguing that there were no real LDS scholars or that, at best, they were pseudo-scholars. This tactic was designed to dissuade potential readers from looking at FARMS materials. But things began to change after 1997, when Evangelical scholars Carl Mosser and Paul Owen presented their now-famous paper at a regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Entitled “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?” it was later published in Trinity Journal 19NS (1998). The authors noted that various LDS scholars who wrote for FARMS were also involved in serious scholarly work that has been published in a wide range of non-LDS scholarly publications.3
The Mosser/Owen paper called for a re-evaluation of the way Evangelicals deal with Latter-day Saint scholarship. What is needed, they contend, is to keep the mostly untrained Mormon-bashers out of the discussion and bring Evangelical scholars in. While some Evangelical scholars have taken up the gauntlet,4 the amateurs still rule the field with their mostly unfounded anti-Mormon diatribes. But their argument has changed direction. Now they contend that LDS scholars do well when writing in their chosen academic fields, but are not objective (and therefore not scholarly) when writing about LDS subjects.
There has been a tendency among non-LDS scholars to suggest that unique LDS scriptures such as the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and the Book of Moses are not subjects for serious scholarly study except as literary frauds, and that Joseph Smith’s claim to have restored the ancient Church is bogus. But the past few decades have seen some softening in this position.
In June 1961, Hugh Nibley’s article “The Passing of the Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme” was published in the non-LDS scholarly journal Church History.5 Though he did not discuss the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the topic of the paper–evidences for the great apostasy–clearly came from Nibley’s own religious beliefs. Still, he supported his ideas by referring to early Christian writings. Six months later, the journal published a letter from Hans J. Hillebrand6 (who rejected Nibley’s thesis), along with a response to Hillebrand and a defense of Nibley’s approach if not his conclusions from one of the journal’s editors, Robert M. Grant.7 Nearly a decade later, William A. Clebsch discussed Nibley’s thesis, noting his “Mormon viewpoint,” and the debate that ensued.8 Somehow, it seems highly significant that a topic based on Latter-day Saint beliefs was aired in a scholarly debate.9
In 1966 a little-known critic of the LDS Church wrote a series of inflammatory letters designed to elicit negative comments about the Book of Abraham from prominent Near Eastern scholars. In his response, William F. Albright of Johns Hopkins University expressed doubts that Joseph Smith could have learned Egyptian from any early nineteenth century sources. Explaining that he was a Protestant and hence not a believer in the Book of Mormon, he observed, “It is all the more surprising that there are two Egyptian names, Paanch [Paanchi] and Pahor(an) which appear in the Book of Mormon in close connection with a reference to the original language being ‘Reformed Egyptian.'” Puzzled at the existence of such names in a book published by Joseph Smith in 1830, Albright vaguely suggested that the young Mormon leader was some kind of “religious genius”10 and defended the honesty of Joseph Smith and the good name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have to believe that these comments reflect the fact that Albright was more than superficially acquainted with the Book of Mormon, even if he was not a believer.
Occasionally, we learn of theses and dissertations on LDS topics written by non-Latter-day Saints. For example, Rabbi Nissim Wernick made the Book of Abraham the subject of his 1968 Brigham Young University PhD dissertation, entitled, “A Critical Analysis of the Book of Abraham in the Light of Extra-Canonical Jewish Writings.”11 The Rabbi used some of his research material for a BYU Studies article, “Man, the Pinnacle of Creation.”12 In 1998, a Catholic priest, Jordan Vajda, OP, wrote an MA thesis for the Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley, California, entitled, “‘Partakers of the Divine Nature’: A Comparative Analysis of Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization.”
In the spring of 1978, the Religious Studies Center of Brigham Young University sponsored a symposium to which a number of non-LDS scholars were invited to discuss topics of special interest to Latter-day Saints. The papers presented at the symposium were assembled by Truman G. Madsen and published in a book entitled Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels.13 Several of the papers discussed topics drawn from the Book of Mormon and other unique LDS scriptures. David Winston of the University of California (Berkeley) discussed “Preexistence in Hellenic, Judaic and Mormon Sources.” Krister Stendahl of the Harvard Divinity School discussed “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi.” Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier of Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut) spoke “In Defense of Anthropomorphism.” John Dillenberger, President of Hartford Seminary Foundation, compared “Grace and Works in Martin Luther and Joseph Smith.” Ernst W. Benz of the University of Marburg titled his presentation “Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God.” James H. Charlesworth of Duke University presented a paper entitled “Messianism in the Pseudepigrapha and the Book of Mormon.”
A few years after this conclave, Doubleday published Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (1985), the dust jacket of which states that “Scholars, Bible students, professionals of all religious groups and denominations, and lay people–indeed, all those who can be signified as ‘People of the Book,’ Christians, Jews, Mormons, Muslims–will be interested in these translations.”14
Truman Madsen hosted a second conference with LDS and non-LDS scholars discussing ancient temples, a topic that holds great interest for Latter-day Saints. This conference, too, resulted in a book.15
Meanwhile, in 1981, John W. Welch edited a book entitled Chiasmus in Antiquity, which contained articles by a number of non-LDS scholars, including Yehuda T. Radday of the University of Haifa, Bezalel Porten and Jonah Fraenkel of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Wilfred G. E. Watson of Trinity College, University of Dublin. The book, published in Germany, included Welch’s article “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.”16 The inclusion of this article in a collection of chiasmus studies by renowned scholars firmly established the Book of Mormon as a proper topic of discussion in scholarly publications. In his preface to the book, David Noel Freedman then of the University of Michigan (now at the University of California San Diego) wrote, “The editor is to be commended for his catholicity and courage and for his own original contributions in several domains including a unique treatment of the Book of Mormon.”17
In 1981, while serving as chair of the annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures and Allied Fields, I invited Raphael Patai of Princeton University to speak at the symposium on the subject of his book The Hebrew Goddess (1968), in which he suggested that at least some Jews in ancient times believed God was married. Patai expressed surprise that Latter-day Saints should be interested in the topic, and when I explained our concepts of God and eternal marriage, he asked that I send him some materials, which I did. His presentation at the symposium was well received, and Patai later returned to Provo for other presentations.
In some of his subsequent books, Patai drew on the Book of Mormon. For example, in The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book, a note to the story of thirteenth-century French alchemist Nicolas Flamel reads, “The idea that sacred texts were originally inscribed on metal tablets recurs in the Mormon belief that the Book of Mormon came down inscribed on gold tablets. Important documents were in fact inscribed on metal tablets and preserved in stone or marble boxes in Mesopotamia, Egypt, etc.”18 The note references an article by LDS scholar H. Curtis Wright in a book published by FARMS19 (and to which Patai and other non-LDS scholars contributed), and he thanked one of the editors of that book, John M. Lundquist, for bringing this information to his attention.
Patai credited Lundquist for breaking the “writer’s block” that enabled him to complete his book The Children of Noah: Jewish Seafaring in Ancient Times, published by Princeton University in 1998. In the Preface, Patai wrote:
Then, in the late 1980s, I was asked by my friend Dr. John M. Lundquist, head of the Oriental Division of the New York Public Library, to contribute a paper to the Festschrift he, together with Dr. Stephen D. Ricks of Brigham Young University, planned to publish in honor of the eightieth birthday of Hugh W. Nibley. Thinking about what would be most suitable for a collection of essays in honor of an outstanding Mormon scholar, and knowing that according to the traditions of the Mormons their ancestors [sic] sailed to America from the Land of Israel about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, I felt that a paper discussing some aspect of Jewish seafaring in ancient times would be most appropriate. So I went back to the seafaring typescript, and reworked the chapter that dealt with Rabbinic legal provisions related to seafaring. It was published in volume one of the Nibley Festschrift in 1990, and is reprinted here in a slightly changed format as Chapter 10.20
Referring to the first sailors to leave the Mediterranean Sea and enter the Atlantic Ocean, Patai wrote:
This daring feet of striking out into unknown waters is dwarfed by what the Mormon tradition attributes to a group of Jews who lived in the days of King Zedekiah in Jerusalem, that is, in the early sixth century BCE (the same time in which the Phocaean skippers were supposed to have sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar). According to Mormon tradition, their venture into unknown waters took place in the year 589 BCE, that is, three years before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and it was thanks to this extraordinary feat that the American continent was populated by a remnant of biblical Israel.
In friendly response to my request, Dr. John M. Lundquist has summarized for this volume the Mormon version of the origins of the Mormons [sic] from sixty[sic]-century BCE Palestine, at which period, according to the Mormon tradition [sic], the biblical Hebrews had a highly developed seafaring trade (see Appendix).21
The appendix by Lundquist is entitled “Biblical Seafaring and the Book of Mormon,” and the volume’s title page attributes the authorship to “Raphael Patai With Contributions by James Hornell and John M. Lundquist.” Counting references in Lundquist’s appendix, Patai’s book mentions seven books published by FARMS and Deseret Book, of which five are about the Book of Mormon.
Another Jewish scholar who has dealt with LDS topics is Jacob Neusner, who has been an occasional speaker at BYU. His article, “Conversations in Nauvoo on the Corporeality of God,” appeared in BYU Studies 36/1 (l996-97). David L. Paulsen, a prominent LDS philosopher teaching at BYU, has made a reputation for introducing LDS views of God into the realm of general scholarship. In 1975, he earned a PhD from the University of Michigan, with a dissertation entitled “Comparative Coherency of Mormon (finitistic) and Classical Theism.” A decade and a half later, his article “Must God Be Incorporeal?” was published in Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers.22
In 1990, Paulsen’s article “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” was published in the prestigious Harvard Theological Review.23 Kim Paffenroth took exception to his views and three years later published, in the same review, “Paulsen on Augustine: An Incorporeal or Nonanthropomorphic God?”, to which Paulsen was allowed to give a “Reply to Kim Paffenroth’s Comment” in the same issue.24
Another scholar whose LDS view of God and godhood influenced his research is Keith E. Norman. His 1980 Duke University PhD dissertation was entitled “Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology.” The dissertation was published in the FARMS Occasional Papers series in 2001.
The concept of an apostasy in the early Christian Church was discussed by BYU professor C. Wilfred Griggs in his book Early Egyptian Christianity: From its Origins to 451 C.E. (Coptic Studies Series No. 2; New York: E. J. Brill, 1990). The book received mixed reviews from the non-LDS scholarly world, but some non-LDS scholars have praised his work.25
In recent years, Book of Mormon topics have been discussed in regional and national meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). At the 1997 national meeting, Eric G. Hansen gave a paper on “The Egyptian ‘Opening of the Mouth’ Ritual in the Book of Mormon.”26 Angela Crowell has presented three papers at meetings of the Central States regional meetings of SBL.27 In the Spring of 1988, she presented a paper entitled “Biblical Hebrew Poetry in the Book of Mormon.” A year later, she read a paper based on her MA thesis topic, “A Comparative Study of Biblical Hebrew Sentence Structure in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon.” After the session, she was approached by a professor/rabbi who told her that he had taught a class at the University of Missouri-Kansas City on the Book of Mormon. In April 1992, Crowell presented a paper entitled, “A Comparative Reading of Homiletic and Narrative Midrash in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon.”
In the late 1990s, Macmillan, one of the nation’s foremost publishers, approached BYU about the possibility of publishing an Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Daniel H. Ludlow, former dean of religion at BYU, was asked to head the project, in association with other BYU faculty members, and the encyclopedia was published in 1992. A number of LDS scholars contributed articles for the project.
Terryl Givens, an LDS professor at the University of Richmond, made history in 1997 when his history of anti-Mormonism, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy, was published by Oxford University Press.28 Oxford will also publish his Out of the Dust: Saints, Scholars, Skeptics, and the Book of Mormon, which is a serious look at the Book of Mormon and its skeptics, along with a survey of the scholarly work being done in regard to it.
In addition to these overtly LDS topics being discussed in scholarly works issued by non-LDS publishers, there have been other, more subtle ways in which LDS scholarly research has been noted. In 1982, I published an article entitled “Egyptian Etymologies for Biblical Religious Paraphernalia,” in one of the volumes of Scripta Hierosolymitana, the official publication of the Hebrew University, in which I footnoted one of BYU professor Hugh Nibley’s publications on the Book of Abraham.29 The same volume included an article by another Latter-day Saint, Benjamin Urrutia, whose article on the Egyptian opening-of-the-mouth ceremony also footnoted Nibley. More recently, Daniel C. Peterson footnoted several FARMS publications in his article on “Muhammad” in an anthology edited by two noted non-LDS scholars.30
Sometimes, LDS scholars have gained the respect of non-LDS scholars with whom they have worked or studied. I can’t help but think that Stephen E. Robinson and John W. Welch made a good impression on James H. Charlesworth while they were studying at Duke University, since Charlesworth has come to speak several times on the BYU campus, even on Book of Mormon topics. Donald W. Parry and others have clearly had a positive effect on a number of non-LDS scholars working on the Dead Sea Scrolls. At least two professors I knew while I was a student at the Hebrew University were so impressed with the Book of Mormon that, while they didn’t become members of the Church, they became convinced that the Nephite record was an authentic ancient text.
This brings me back to my recent trip to Israel. It was not the first time the Book of Mormon has been discussed in a prestigious scholarly forum and I sincerely hope that it will not be the last. Some of those who heard my presentation gave me additional suggestions for Hebrew etymologies for Book of Mormon names. One of the speakers drew our attention to another attestation of the Hebrew name Sariah (the name of Lehi’s wife) in a Jewish text of the fourth century B.C. found in the Bosphorus region and mentioned only in a Russian publication.
So where do we go from here? I have other topics in mind that I believe will interest at least some non-LDS scholars, and I suspect that I am not alone in this. I plan, for example, to revisit my “King Benjamin and the Feast of Tabernacles” and update it for a Festschrift to be published in Israel next year in honor of a professor whose studies have specialized in Jewish festivals.
It is my earnest hope that we can convince our LDS colleagues that there are open-minded non-LDS scholars out there who would be willing to include scholarly studies on LDS scriptures and beliefs in their journals and books. In this, I have to concur with Gordon C. Thomasson, who once said that we believers should approach studies of the Book of Mormon with the a priori assumption that it is an authentic ancient text and that, moreover, the Book of Mormon can sometimes help elucidate the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts and archaeological finds. As we shall learn in some of the presentations being made at this conference, the volume of evidence for the Book of Mormon continues to increase. To be sure, we need to share that information with Latter-day Saints, but I believe the time is ripe to take this research to the world of non-LDS scholarship.
1 I lived in Israel for more than eight years (1971-1979), during which time I taught in the BYU Jerusalem program. I also lectured on the history of the Hebrew language at Brandeis University’s Jacob Hyatt Institute and lectured on Bible topics for groups of American Baptist seminarians visiting Israel.
2 I later expanded the paper and it was published as “Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity,” in Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, The Temple in Time and Eternity (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999).
3 I have been informed that Mosser and Owen have teamed with Frank Beckwith to edit a book on the subject, entitled New Challenges to Mormonism, which will be published by Zondervan.
4 E.g., Thomas J. Finley, Professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California, wrote a paper critiquing Hugh Nibley’s use of the Elephantine papyri as evidence for the Book of Mormon that was read to the Society for the Study of Alternative Religions (SSAR) at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, November 19, 1998, in Orlando, Florida. The paper has been posted on the “Mormons in Transition” web site at http://www.irr.org/mit/nibley.html. Finley is one of the contributors to the forthcoming Beckwith, Owen, and Mosser book.
5 Church History 30/2 (June 1961): 131-154. The article has been reprinted as “The Passing of the Primitive Church” in Hugh Nibley, When the Lights Went Out (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), 1-32; in BYU Studies 16 (1975): 139-164; in Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987), 168-208; and most recently in the FARMS 2001 reprint of When the Lights Went Out: Three Studies on the Ancient Apostasy, under the title “The Passing of the Primitive Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme.” The latest title is a compromise between the title of the original article and the 1970 reprint.
6 Hans J. Hillebrand, “The Passing of the Church: Two Comments on a Strange Theme,” Church History 30/3 (December 1961): 481-482.
7 Robert M. Grant, “The Passing of the Church: Comments on Two Comments on a Strange Theme,” Church History 30/3 (December 1961): 482-483.
8 William A. Clebsch, “History and Salvation: An Essay in Distinctions,” The Study of Religion in Colleges and Universities, edited by Paul Ramsey and John F. Wilson (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970), 40-72.
9 For a discussion, see Louis C. Midgley’s annotated bibliography of Hugh Nibley’s publications in By Study and Also by Faith, edited by John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Books and FARMS, 1990), 1:xxxiii-xxxv.
10 William F. Albright to Grant S. Heward, Baltimore, Maryland, 25 July 1966. I am indebted to Boyd Peterson who, under a grant from FARMS, was able to photocopy this and many other pieces of correspondence about the Book of Abraham held in various university library collections.
11 Wernick’s work came to my attention only after Brian Hauglid, John Gee, and I had finished compiling our book Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001), which has many more correspondences between the Book of Abraham and ancient texts than Wernick included in his study.
12 Nissim Wernick, “Man, the Pinnacle of Creation,” BYU Studies, 10/1 (Autumn 1969).
13 Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, edited by Truman G. Madsen (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978).
14 One of Charlesworth’s LDS students, Stephen Robinson of the Brigham Young University’s department of ancient scripture, prepared the translaton and commentary of three of the texts included in the two-volume set. These are the Apocryphon of Ezekiel (1:487-495), the Testament of Adam (1:989-995), and 4 Baruch (2:413-425).
15 Truman G. Madsen, The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1984).
16 Chiasmus in Antiquity, edited by John W. Welch (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1981). The book was republished by Research Press, a publishing arm of the Foudation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, in 1998.
17 Ibid., 8.
18 Raphael Patai, The Jewish Alchemists (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994), 573 (note 19).
19 H. Curtis Wright, “Ancient Burials of Metal Documents in Stone Boxes,” By Study and Also by Faith, edited by John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Books and FARMS, 1990), 2:273-334.
20 Raphael Patai, The Children of Noah: Jewish Seafaring in Ancient Times (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998), xii-xiii.
21 Ibid., 21.
22 Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers 6/1 (January 1989).
23 Harvard Theological Review 83/2, 1990.
24 Harvard Theological Review 86/2 (1993).
25 See the discussion in Mosser and Owen, “Mormon Scholarship,” 196-197, notes 72-82.
26 I spoke in the same session as Hansen, but my topic was not related to LDS beliefs. It was, however, an expansion of my earlier article, “Egyptian Etymologies for Biblical Religious Paraphernalia,” published in Egyptological Studies, edited by Sarah I. Groll (Scripta Hierosolymitana, Vol. 28; Jerusalem: Magnes Press of the Hebrew University, 1982), in which I footnoted one of Hugh Nibley’s books. Another Latter-day Saint who published an article in the same volume was Benjamin Urrutia, who also built on Nibley’s work, comparing the Egyptian opening of the mouth ceremony with Psalm 51. So each time I discussed my work on Biblical religious paraphernalia, it was in a forum that included a discussion of the Egyptian opening of the mouth ceremony by another Latter-day Saint.
27 All of this information is from an e-mail Angela sent me on 26 May 2001 in response to my inquiry.
28 Givens has also published several articles on Mormonism in non-LDS publications, including “Caricature as Containment: Orientalism, Bondage, and the Construction of Mormon Ethnicity in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Fiction,” in Nineteenth-Century contexts 18/4 (1995); “The Populist View of Joseph Smith,” in Eric A. Eliason, Mormons and Mormonism : An Introduction to an American World Religion (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, c2001).
29 John A. Tvedtnes, “Egyptian Etymologies for Biblical Religious Paraphernalia,” Egyptological Studies, edited by Sarah I. Groll (Scripta Hierosolymitana, Vol. 28; Jerusalem: Magnes Press of the Hebrew University, 1982).
30 The Rivers of Paradise: Moses Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, and Muhammad as Religious Founders, edited by David Noel Freedman and Michael J. McClymond (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2001).